Not this blog post. I’m obviously writing it. And I’ll get to what Iron Chef Michael Symon didn’t write in a minute.
I have been, of late, a little disappointed in some of my food magazines. I subscribe to all of them. Some of them are very good, such as Saveur and Bon Appetit. But I made the mistake of subscribing to Paula Deen’s magazine, which has been a great disappointment. I love Paula Deen. But I’m fairly certain the only contact she has with this magazine is posing for the many, many photos of Paula that look almost just alike and adorn every other page. It is profoundly tied to other commercial enterprises. When I read the long and stupefyingly boring article about her Alaskan vacation, I just knew the Alaskan Tourism Council was behind the whole thing.
I also subscribe to the Food Network Magazine, which is hit and miss. One of my favorite features is when supposedly real people ask the Food Network stars their “burning” questions. Now I know that the stars don’t answer these questions personally. Here’s the one in this month’s issue for Michael Symon: “What is the difference between green onions, chives and shallots? They look a lot alike to me.” Alicia Wells, Ephrata, WA.
Are you kidding me? They look a lot alike? Let’s just review.
These are green onions. They are long and slender with a white root tip and long cylindrical green shoots. They generally come bundled in rubber bands in the supermarket and they are particularly good in stir fries, salads or just dunked in some freshly ground sea salt.
These are chives. These are actual chives from my garden.
Sometimes they come in slender deep green stalks and sometimes they come with flattened leaves, such as my chives have. They are particularly well suited to being snipped into pieces to top a baked potato with sour cream. I also love them mixed in with cottage cheese. I don’t know why.
Then there are shallots. Shallots, as the other aforementioned green
onions and chives, are also members of the onion family. They are smaller than an onion and milder. They are wonderful in sauces because their delicate flavor shines through. They are also delicious cut into rings, lightly floured and fried to top a hamburger.
Now, I ask you. Do these three things look anything alike? At all? Even slightly?
And here’s why I suspect Michael Symon did not answer this stupid question. The answer is unfailingly polite and written, if you can do this, with a straight face. “Although they’re all part of the onion family, these three ingredients are actually quite different,” it begins, going on to innumerate the differences. I’m sure Michael Symon is unfailingly polite, but he couldn’t possibly have taken this question seriously.
If I were Michael Symon, I would have answered it this way: “Alicia, dear, get yourself a pair of glasses. Green onions, chives and shallots don’t look at all alike. One has a white end, one looks like a blade of grass and one looks like a tiny onion. And, sweetheart, they’re all labeled at the grocery store so you really can’t mistake one for the other.”
Here’s the larger point, and I actually have one. People who have even a passing interest in cooking and food know when they’re being fed bad journalism. They know when a story is really about product placement and not the product. Or when your favorite Food Network star is probably not even in the same city – much less the same room – as some unpaid intern who earnestly wrote the answer to a question that was probably made up by some junior-level editorial assistant.
If there is an Alicia Wells and she can’t tell the difference between something that is shaped like a pencil or shaped like an oblong ball, well then I just don’t know. Or, to be more charitable as we say in the South, bless her heart.